Editor’s Note: This article was published days prior to David Bowie’s death.
Ever felt overwhelmed by an artist’s extensive back catalog? Been meaning to check out a band, but you just don’t know where to begin? In 10 Songs is here to help, offering a crash course and entry point into the daunting discographies of iconic artists of all genres. This is your first step toward fandom. Take it.
David Bowie is transformation incarnate. He’s been a starman, an alligator, thin white duke, goblin king, a lad insane, a piece of teenage wildlife, a broken man, and most recently a Blackstar. He can’t be held down, held back, and seldom pigeonholed. If he’s never struck a chord with you, then it’s likely you just haven’t heard the right Bowie. Since his emergence in the late ’60s, across the scope of 27 studio albums and counting, he’s been a crucial figure in folk, glam, soul, new wave, experimental, pop, grunge, electronica, dance, and jazz to name a few. A case could be made for Bowie being the most sonically prolific artist since the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll.
All that in mind, it should be no surprise that whittling down the Bowie discography to 10 songs is nigh impossible. Fans will immediately notice shocking omissions and perhaps some unexpected choices. Our goal with this iteration of In 10 Songs is to take a fair crack at representing as many musical periods of Bowie’s work as space allows. Idea being, for the uninitiated, if any one of these tracks does it for you, then there’s at least an album’s worth of material waiting to be discovered. Maybe you’ll love it all, rare bird that you are – but most likely, as with many Bowie fans, you’ll deeply love some of it, while the rest will remain a curiosity. There’s no wrong answer so long as there’s some Bowie in your life.
His 28th album, ★, arrives on the 8th – and with it a new era of genre fusion and experimentation. If you’ve never taken the plunge, we know, the scope can be staggering. Let these 10 tracks begin your odyssey.
Precursor to The Spiders from Mars
“The Man Who Sold the World” from The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
Released in 1970 as the title track to Bowie’s third studio album, “The Man Who Sold the World” demonstrated the heavy rock sound of his new backing band (Tony Visconti on bass, Mick Ronson on electric guitar, and Mick Woodmansey on drums), the future Spiders from Mars. The track is the exception to the other songs on the album — bass-heavy and Black Sabbath-scented. Sci-fi intersects with relaxed Latin rhythms and acoustic guitar strumming underneath Bowie’s lyrics, telling one of many paranoid tales of the future in gently psychedelic phased-over vocals. Nirvana’s notorious cover for MTV’s Unplugged acoustic series in 1993 treated the tune with a similarly relaxed and detached style, contrasting with the dystopic subject matter but demonstrating the song’s timelessness. In the early ‘70s, the album and song were laying the foundation for glam rock and Bowie’s upcoming Ziggy Stardust era, but in 2016, it’s being mistaken by millennial degenerates shopping in Urban Outfitters as a Nirvana original. This is not necessarily a surprise, considering the song’s melodic straightforwardness and accessibility, which has always been a clear point of access for Nirvana and Bowie lovers alike. —Erin Manning